We heard certain things, over and over again, from our parents. It turns out that they were pearls of wisdom and still true today! Here are some of my favorites:
“Go outside and play”
Children aged 8 to 10 years spend about 6 hours a day in front of a screen (inside) for entertainment (4 of these are watching TV) according to the CDC. This figure jumps to a massive 9 hours a day (5 hours watching TV) for kids aged 11 to 14 years.
Our kids need more time outside, inventing, using their imaginations, and solving problems. They need to exercising their bodies, get dirty, and making lasting memories. Sometimes, we need to force them to go outside and play. Research shows that unstructured, self-directed play is essential for children’s healthy development. Play is how children work.
“We will sit down at the table and eat supper together as a family.”
Only 50% of twelve-year-olds have dinner with their parents at night. According to Stanford Children’s Health, family meals teach the importance of sharing responsibilities, like food prep, table setting, and kitchen cleanup. They also provide an opportunity to teach table manners and communication skills.
Kids learn to be patient while waiting for a sibling or their parent to finish talking. This sharing enhances sibling relationships. When parents take an interest in children’s daily activities, they develop greater self-esteem. Family dinners are a time when technology is set aside so that everyone can communicate clearly. This means no screens at dinner.
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University says that the more often children eat dinner with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink, or use drugs. Teens that frequently eat with their families are more likely to say their parents are proud of them.
“You do not need to schedule so many things.”
Overscheduling causes stress and pressure on children, not to mention their parents. It can contribute to anxiety and burnout in the child or the parents. Overscheduled children may be subject to excessive or unreasonable expectations from their parents. Overscheduling also kills playtime and spontaneous creativity. Children need downtime after school to play, unwind, and decompress.
It is best to allow our children to select the activities that they want to get involved in. We need to put a cap on the number of activities they are doing. Two each week might be enough. If they have a different activity every weekday, then they are likely overscheduled. Kids who don’t have any unstructured down time may experience stress, show less interest in their activities, and suffer strained family relationships.
“It is okay to be bored, just think of something to do.”
Boredom is necessary and functional. It helps kids build creativity, self-esteem, and emotional regulation. Boredom allows children to learn problem solving, planning, and organization. It’s not the boredom itself that helps children acquire skills — it’s what they do with the boredom.
It turns out that all that time spent playing make-believe helps children develop a critical cognitive skill called executive function. Executive function has several different elements, but a central one is the ability to self-regulate. All of us need to manage our frustrations and regulate our emotions when things aren’t going our way. Kids with good self-regulation can control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline.
I enjoy watching and listening my 5-year-old granddaughter have a conversation with herself while she is playing house with her “Calico Critters.” During make-believe, children engage in what’s called “private speech.” They talk to themselves about what they are going to do and how they are going to do it. Self-regulating language is high during make-believe play, and this predicts use of executive function.
Children need unstructured experiences, like making something out of a cardboard box and string. They get a sense of learning, resourcefulness, and confidence from making or fixing something with their own hands.
“It’s okay to fail; that’s how you learn.”
Back in my day, parents didn’t brainstorm, plan, and produce every aspect of their kid’s science fair project. They also didn’t meddle in every aspect of their kids’ schooling and extra-curricular activities. They did not email teachers and call coaches regularly to discuss test grades or an amount of playing time their child received. Parents only got involved when there was a problem.
Parental knowledge and involvement are essential to support kids’ development. Sure, parents are supposed to advocate for them when it is necessary. However, children do not need to be rescued from every sort of negative feeling and outcome. Children must learn to fail so that they can gain valuable life experience.
Children will learn to adapt to stress and push forward when things are not easy. From learning to lose at a board game to suffering defeat at the soccer tournament, experiencing failure is how children learn to cope and thrive later in life.
It is important that we give our kids the space they need to make mistakes and solve their own problems (provided that we keep them safe, of course). As parents we may feel helpless, angry, or sad when our kids fail; but there are huge benefits to allowing them to suffer natural consequences. Our parents allowed us to suffer natural consequences. They never bailed us out!